By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 06, 2021 at 9:02 AM

Fans of Milwaukee – and Great Lakes – history who haven't signed up for the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society's mailing list are missing out.

The group – headquartered at Milwaukee Public Library, which I featured in this story a few years back – is very active in terms of collecting and archiving documents and photos and objects and also hosts numerous events each year.

The newsletter is an easy way to find a cool old photo in your inbox every week (sometimes more). And, because these folks are history buffs like the rest of us, there's always a story behind the photo and the WMHS folks share that story.

Here is today's story – written by Suzette Lopez – from the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society:

On Sept. 6, 1952, the Christy Corp. of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, launched the car ferry BADGER and christened her sister ship the SPARTAN as over 1,000 excited guests watched. Presiding over the christening was Mrs. Walter J. Kohler, Jr., wife of Wisconsin’s governor. 

BADGER in Milwaukee before taking its Love Cruise, Sept. 6, 1984.

The streamlined ferries were built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and measured 410 feet in length with a 60 foot beam and cost $5 million each.  They were designed for year-round operation and could carry 32 railroad freight cars or 150 automobiles. 

Passengers could roam a spacious lounge, the promenade deck, be seated in the dining room or choose one of the 44 outside or 16 inside staterooms – all of which were air-conditioned.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway decided to name their car ferries after the athletic teams of the Michigan State University, the Spartans, and the University of Wisconsin, the Badgers. Delegations from both colleges were on hand at the christening, roaring their traditional school cheers. 

The car ferry routes of the C&O operated from Ludington, Michigan, to railroad connections at three points on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee, all in Wisconsin. 

By using this route, freight moving between the East and the Northwest and Pacific Coast could by-pass the congested Chicago switching area.

Christening of the SPARTAN, Sept. 6, 1952.

By the 1970s the C&O Railway decided car ferries were no longer profitable to operate.  The SPARTAN laid up on Sept. 10, 1979, at Ludington and basically over the years has supplied parts for her sister ship the BADGER.  

The BADGER is still sailing today. The price for a round trip ticket ranges from $45 for children to $125 for adults with several discounts offered. This price does not include your vehicle. 

The crossing takes about 4 hours and covers 60 miles of water. Her average speed is 18 miles per hour or 15.6 knots.  She has a crew of 50-60 and can carry 600 passengers, 180 automobiles, tour buses, RVs, motorcycles and trucks.  

She makes about 450 crossings per season.   For more information check out their website at

SPARTAN in 2004. (PHOTO: Chuck Sterba)

Late in December 2020, the SPARTAN, the BADGER and the tug/barge UNDAUNTED/PERE MARQUETTE 41 were bought by Interlake Steamship Company.

(PHOTOS: Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.